On strolls through their quiet midtown Sacramento neighborhood, Lauren Michele and Joe Caves would walk by the stately home on 23rd Street and listen to the babbling fountain behind the walls.
“It sounded so soothing, so enchanting,” Michele recalled. “It became a destination for us on our strolls.”
They loved the century-old home’s clean lines and its shady garden studded with sycamores and Japanese maples. Well known as the former home of an important local judge, the house became their daydream oasis, a little corner of serenity not far from the beaten path.
“We used to joke that it would be really amazing to live in this house,” Michele said. “The owner even invited us into the courtyard one time – since we were awkwardly standing outside his house when he and his dog walked up – and told us about the house’s history.”
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Then, their fantasy house became their own home.
The couple had just put a down payment on a new nearby townhouse when they discovered – on one of those strolls – that the storied Prairie-style mansion was for sale.
“We literally put a deposit down (on the townhouse) two days before this house went on the market,” Michele said. “We fortunately were able to get back the deposit and bought this place instead. It was meant to be.”
Since that purchase in October, the couple have filled their new/old home with positive energy and a lot of elbow grease. Now, they’re willing to share their find and good fortune with their community.
Known as the Shields House after original owner Judge Peter Shields, the home will be featured Sept. 20 on the 40th annual Sacramento Historic Home Tour. It’s one of six lovingly restored homes plus one re-purposed warehouse that illustrate the architectural diversity of the midtown neighborhood.
Formerly known as the Sacramento Old City Association, Preservation Sacramento hosts this salute to the city’s architectural history. In addition to the home tour, the event includes a free street fair featuring products and services for historic home restoration.
A longtime Sacramento Superior Court judge, Shields was one of the founding fathers of the University Farm, now the campus of UC Davis. He’s also the namesake of the Shields Library on the UC Davis campus. His wife, Carolee, was a longtime UC Davis benefactor, too; the campus arboretum’s all-white flowered garden is named in her honor.
Built circa 1913, the Shields House has a twin structure next door that mirrors its distinctive architecture. Built by William Murcell, the two houses originally shared a common courtyard and a stand-alone garage.
“The Shields House has this combination of simplicity and classiness that really makes it stand out,” said Catherine Turrell of Preservation Sacramento. “This house has this elegance that’s been lovingly preserved. … We find this (Prairie) style is coming back. People love the streamlined look. With its open floor plan, it’s the perfect style for Sacramento.”
It’s definitely a local landmark, added tour coordinator Christine Weinstein. “There’s a lot of curiosity about this house from people in the neighborhood. They’ve heard that fountain. They want a look inside.”
The Shields connection was a draw for its current owners, too.
“I used to spend so much time studying in the Shields Library,” said Michele, a UC Davis alumna. “Now, it’s really cool to be in his house.”
The two-story home and its tree-lined street also fit with the couple’s own philosophical outlooks. Michele and Caves, who married in January in Bali, both work as environmental policy consultants and own their own businesses. Michele now works at home; her office is a sun-filled former “sleeping porch.” Caves walks to his office across from the Capitol when he’s not working from home, too.
“This is as good as it gets,” said Caves, enjoying the dappled sun in the home’s sheltered courtyard as Roxy, their pet cat, purred contentedly. “It’s a perfect little paradise. I lived in Carmichael for 30 years and hated the commute. Now, we’re close to everything and we love it here.”
The centerpiece of the serene courtyard is that babbling fountain. Sheets of recycled water cascade down into a shallow wading pool, lined with iridescent glass tile.
“The contractor had to lengthen the pool because the fountain was off center,” Caves explained. “It made the whole thing a little bigger, but not deep enough to swim in.”
“When it’s hot enough, I still get in it,” Michele added with a laugh.
Indoors, the couple did a lot of work making the historic mansion feel like a cozy personal home.
“Basically, we spent six months of our lives remodeling in a feng shui mode,” Michele said. “We did a lot of stripping, a lot of painting.”
“All the basic structure is the same; all the windows are original,” Caves said.
So is the antique hardware on most of the doors. Warped and damaged, the original oak flooring was replaced with walnut. A downstairs bathroom was reconfigured.
The biggest change came in color. Serious steel grays were replaced with friendly butter yellow and clean white trim.
“It just feels so spacious now,” Michele said. “There’s so much natural light. Yellow and white totally transformed these rooms. Now, they’re so welcoming.”
To complete their dream home, the couple added artwork from Bali, souvenirs from their wedding trip. The artwork brings a touch of nature inside their Prairie home.
“I still love just walking around the neighborhood under all the trees and can’t believe we’re actually living in the house of our dreams now,” Michele said. “It’s just one of those things that falls into place in life that you have to surrender to and be grateful for.”
40th annual Sacramento Historic Home Tour
Where: Start at 14th and R streets, Sacramento
When: 10 a.m.-4 p.m. Sunday, Sept. 20
Admission: $25 advance, $30 day of tour
Highlights: Formerly the Sacramento Old City Association, Preservation Sacramento hosts this popular tour featuring homes in the Richmond Grove neighborhood. In conjunction, a free street fair will be held at 14th and R streets with artisans, contractors, builders and other experts dedicated to home restoration and local history.